Friday, December 15, 2006

Two truths, not

Two truths (not)

The British police have just announced the an investigation, confirming an earlier one by the French, concluding that Princess Diana did not die as the result of a conspiracy—whether by MI5, MI6, the Mossad, the CIA, a cabal led by Prince Philip or any of the other suspects. She died because her chauffeur had been drinking heavily and was driving too fast in order to evade the paparazzi. It is safe to predict that for some this will not be the end of the matter. There will continue to be two views about the cause of Diana.

Nowadays such bifurcations occur in many realms. Some years ago one of my Hunter College colleagues, the late John Henrick Clark, proposed that Cleopatra was black. Most scholars agree that the Egyptian Queen was pure Macedonian and therefore Caucasian. But the Cleopatra-was-black thesis retains many adherents, not all of them African American.

In similar fashion many have rallied to the assertion that Abraham Lincoln was gay, as argued by Abraham Lincoln. As far as I know, no significant Lincoln scholar has ratified these findings, but the possibility continues to be entertained. One Lincolnologist says that by far the greatest number of questions he receives in his speaking tours concerns the sixteenth president’s sexual orientation.

As regards the Bible, many gays believe that the “clobber passages” (such as the Sodom story in Genesis, the death penalty prescribed in Leviticus, and the unnatural allegation of Romans) are not about homosexuality. You see that phenomenon did not exist in ancient times, and if it did, the passages are about Canaanite fertility rites or some other extraneous issue.

Those who sympathize with the American Indians tend to accept the assertion that the United States Constitution was based on the Great Law of the Iroquois. Most American historians, however, still hold that our government relies on European precedents, beginning with ancient Greece.

There are more momentous bifurcations. Surveys have found that as much as a third of the American public holds that the Twin Towers fell on 9/ll because of a plot on the part of the American government. The only difference is between LIHOP (they Let It Happen on Purpose) and MIHOP (they Made It Happen on Purpose).

In South Africa and elsewhere AIDS denialists still insist that HIV is not the cause of the disease.

And in Tehran a conference has just concluded in which the speakers agreed, or so it seems, in denying the reality of the Holocaust.

There may be a silver lining in some of this dissidence. For example, the 9/11 doubters are exercizing a skepticism about the assertions of the United States government. We have all been burned by the folly of invading Iraq, so that more skepticism is required. But it does not seem that this is the place for it.

The case of the disputed bible passages underlines the need for more careful study of those ancient texts and the circumstances that gave them rise.

What strikes me about all these cases, though, is that there are not two competing versions of reality. The matter is not akin to the problem of deciding between quantum mechanics and relativity. In the instances cited above, there is one version that is false and another that is true.


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